The kid spits like a grizzled vet. His uniform would swim on any one of about two dozen major-leaguers. At the plate his power has already been compared to that of Dave Kingman. From the mound he throws Pez, and his curveball looks as if it's falling off one of the desks at the Henry David Thoreau Elementary School, which is where he recently finished the sixth grade.
Cody Webster, 12 years old, 5'7½", 174 pounds, with the peculiar nickname Bodus, was the hero of the 36th Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. last week. He pitched a two-hitter, striking out 12, and hit the longest home run in Series history as Kirkland, Wash., a bedroom suburb of Seattle, defeated the Pu-Tzu town team from Taiwan 6-0 in Saturday's six-inning championship game.
Not since 1970, the year Cody was born, had Taiwan been beaten. A team from Lakewood, N.J. did win the Series in '75, but that year the Little League got small-minded and barred foreign teams because of xenophobia—it was afraid Taiwan might never lose—although the LL claims the foreigners were taking tournament play too seriously. Indeed, last week the Taiwanese were trying for their 11th championship in 13 years.
To the roars of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" from a record crowd of 36,500, Cody struck out Huang Yao-Chung, Chuo Kun-Yuan and Chen Chin-Tung to end the game. The victory wasn't exactly the equivalent of the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviets at Lake Placid, but more than a few people drew the parallel. "It was wonderful," said Steve Stone, the former Cy Young Award winner, who was working the game for ABC. "I understood what it must have been like at the '80 Olympics. On a smaller scale, of course."
On Saturday night the crowd at the Kingdome for the Mariners-Tigers game gave Kirkland a standing ovation when the score was announced. The Mariners will honor the team in person on Sept. 6. On Sunday, a noisy crowd greeted the boys at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, again to cheers of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" Then they were whisked away to Kirkland where 40,000 people—all the people of Kirkland (pop. 18,779), it seemed, and their brothers—saluted their champs with a parade.
After the game, the Little Leaguers from Pu-Tzu had tears in their eyes, but they refused to leave the field until they had congratulated each of the Kirkland players—not an easy task given the chaos of the celebration. They were sent a cablegram of "consolation and encouragement" by Y.S. Sun, Prime Minister of the Republic of China, which read, in part, "Although you did not win the championship, the spirit of unremitting effort you showed has gained the respect of people at home and abroad."
Taiwan newspapers attributed the loss to Kirkland's "superpitcher" and to the nervousness of Pu-Tzu, which committed costly errors early. Commentators offered the opinion that Taiwan's coaches had grown so overconfident that they no longer bothered to drill their teams hard in the fundamentals. In fact, Little League is no longer the national passion it was in Taiwan, no doubt because of the ease with which its teams have won.
Pu-Tzu still outscored its opponents 108-27 to get to Williamsport. It lost one game, 8-5 to Japan, in the Far East regional, but Korea beat Japan and Taiwan then defeated Korea 3-1. Its aura of invincibility was further tarnished when Rouyn, Quebec took a 4-2 lead into the fifth inning of their semifinal game on Thursday. Taiwan came back to win 10-7.
The Kirkland All-Stars were managed by Don Cochran and coached by Pat Downs. The two men are brothers-in-law and longshoremen for the Port of Seattle, and took two months off from their jobs to coach the 14 players. Two years ago they led a team to Williamsport, but lost to Tampa 16-0 in the semifinals. "This team has better pitching and better defense than the other one we had," says Cochran. "And we didn't have Cody then. We thought Taiwan could be beat. They were smaller and not as well-disciplined as in the past."
Kirkland won all 13 of its tournament games to earn its World Series invitation. On Tuesday, Cody struck out 14, and 5'9" Moose Adams hit a two-run homer to beat Sarasota, Fla. 5-3. On Thursday, Moose pitched a two-hitter and Cody had an RBI double as Kirkland defeated Wyoming, Mich. 3-2 to reach the final.
Against Taiwan, the Kirkland players, who, incidentally, almost all look alike, scored first in the third inning when Mark Swain walked, went to second on a sacrifice, to third on a wild pitch and came home on a safety squeeze bunt by Shawn Cochran, the manager's son. They took a 4-0 lead in the fourth on RBI singles by Adams and Swain and the fourth Taiwanese error of the game. As each run scored, the boys gave each other low high-fives. The lowest was given by 5-foot, 85-pound Catcher Erik Jonson.
In the fifth, Cody led off with his colossal blast off Chen Chin-Tung over the fence and the bandstand in dead centerfield. The ball bounced up a hill to the foot of the scoreboard, 280 feet away. Little League President Creighton J. Hale proclaimed it the longest in Series history, and on the ABC telecast Stone likened it to a Kingman shot. On a smaller scale, of course.
"I couldn't believe how good these kids were," said Stone. "I was only a sub-.500 pitcher in Little League, and we were nowhere near as talented." The play that impressed Stone the most came in the bottom of the fifth when First Baseman Mark Peterson made a diving stab at a grounder, then tossed the ball lightly to Cody, who was covering first.
In the sixth, Cody struck out the side on fastballs set up by curves. For the Series, Cody the pitcher had 26 strikeouts and allowed six hits in 12 innings, and Cody the hitter had a single, two doubles, a homer and three RBIs. After the final victory, 13-year-old Outfielder Gibby Black deadpanned, "I think Cody played real crappy today."
They may talk like major-leaguers, but they still need baby-sitting. "We have to make sure they eat right and get their laundry done," says Cochran. "They've been on the road since August 13, so they've gotten pretty homesick."
Cody has three older brothers, ages 16 to 21, all of whom were Little League All-Stars and all of whom are now over six feet tall, although neither father Ron nor mother Sherrye is very big. Cody's favorite player is Tim Raines of the Expos. They are very nearly the same size.
It may be hard to believe that someone with a 75-mph fastball can be 12 years old. "I assure you, he is," says Sherrye Webster. "The other night when he called from Williamsport all he was worried about was how his mutt Taffy was doing in the 90-degree heat."
And what could be nicer than a boy, his dog and a world championship? On a smaller scale, of course.